Window Shopping in Taylor

I stopped at a favorite watering hole in Taylor for a beer or two after work this evening. It was quiet for a Friday and I sat in a chair off in the back. My mind was in a bit of a funk and I could have easily stayed there way too long. I paid my tab after a sandwich and a couple of pints, then headed out for a walk around town as dusk settled in. Tailor is such a nice place to gather one's thoughts.

It came to mind that the month is almost over. Geez, it has been such a blur. I'm working extra hours and taking a class right now. There isn't much time for anything else. It seems like I've hardly touched my camera lately and I didn't have it with me this evening. I did have my iPhone though. I guess I do consider it a camera these days - grudgingly. It will do in a pinch and I'm usually perfectly happy with the results.

Wandering around town, I found myself looking at windows. Sometimes I look through them. With a camera in my hand I tend to look more at what they reflect. It was an appropriate activity tonight. I struggle with anxiety and depression and photography is a kind of therapy for me. When my mind is clouded with darkness, it can bring clarity. As much as I love photography and the benefits it brings, I can make every excuse not to do it. I can be too depressed to grab a camera, while at the same time feeling depressed about not doing a bit of photography. It's a vicious mental cycle. Having a quality camera in my pocket at all times does take away the "Well, don't have my camera." excuse.

My "window shopping" did lift my spirits a bit. Looking at the town as reflected in the glass reminded me that there is more than one way to look at things. Sometimes we need a different perspective. There is darkness and there is light. There is what we see on the surface and there is what exists inside. Sometimes none of it makes sense. Sometimes there is something wonderful that we never realized was there.

All images taken with an iPhone 6s Plus and the Blackie app.

Phantom Shakers at Sahara Lounge

The Phantom Shakers had an early show at Sahara Lounge in Austin last night. It was a great opportunity to catch this fun Rockabilly band in an early time slot and I eagerly headed down to the show with my Fujifilm X100F. I've photographed bands at this venue before and I knew it would be a formidable low light test for that small camera. It was a tough environment but the X100F and the band didn't disappoint.

I wasn't sure what kind of crowd to expect on a Sunday night at Sahara Lounge. The last time I was there, the house was packed. This time I felt like I had the club to myself. Having played drums in a number of bands over the years, I know how frustrating it can be to play to a mostly empty hall. It's tough to get that energy level up when you don't have a crowd to cheer you on. The Phantom Shakers rocked the house regardless and I came away with a few decent images.

All images were captured with the Fujifilm X100F, Acros film simulation, f/2, ISO 12800.

A Little Serenity

I met a couple of photographer buddies in downtown Austin last weekend. They had been taking photos around town in the morning and they decided to walk down the trail along Lady Bird Lake. It's July and that means it is brutally hot out. Taking the humidity into account, heat indexes are running into the 110F degree range.

One of the bridges provided welcome shade and a bit of photographic interest. Plenty of people were paddling by on the lake and many paused under the bridge for a break from the scorching sun. It was still quiet hot and muggy on the river bank under the bridge. Still, there was a peaceful serenity there that we enjoyed for a few moments before calling it a wrap on photographic pursuits and retreating to a nice air condition bar for a few cold beverages.

Top Notch Hot Rod Night

Top Notch, a local burger drive-in, hosts hot rod nights periodically. I stopped by one of the events back in April around the time that the Lone Star Roundup was going on. Due to the collection of photos from the Roundup that I had to sift through, along with other things going on, I'd forgotten about some photos that I snapped at Top Notch.

The cars pack in to the small parking lot at Top Notch, making it difficult to get shots of the full cars. That's OK though and after being there a few times now I've come to appreciate the challenge of finding interesting ways to capture images of the wonderful classic cars that people bring out. This time I chose to travel particularly light and photographed only with my iPhone.

I've really warmed up to iPhone photography for casual outings like this. As usual I was using my favorite camera app, Blackie. I get images that are really close to what I want, which makes post processing a breeze. The biggest challenge is working with the iPhone screen when there is still bright daylight. Getting the angle I want often times means I can't see very well while composing. Given enough light though, the iPhone 6S Plus I have really does a great job. I'm willing to put up with the challenges it presents in some situations, in exchange for not having to lug around a camera bag.

Taylor at Night

It was a long day at work yesterday and the sun had long since set as I left the office. I was looking for a cold beer and a good dinner but I wasn't up for the Friday night crowd in the Austin suburbs. After pondering the thought of just heading home and microwaving my dinner, I decided to enjoy the cool evening and headed to Texas Beer in Taylor. I knew there would be a couple of guys selling BBQ sandwiches at the bar and I could get a pint or two of their house made beer.

After eating my sandwich, I took my beer outside to a picnic table on the sidewalk and in the quiet night I felt like I had this small town to myself. It's a nice retreat from the bustling Austin nightlife and I was able to mentally unwind from my work week. I enjoyed drinking my beer at a leisurely pace as only a trickle of pedestrian traffic occasionally passed by.

It was too nice of a night to not take a little walk around downtown and, of course, snap a few photos before heading home. My little late evening stroll was a striking contrast to a walk I took in downtown Austin a while back with a couple of friends. In comparison, Austin was congested with traffic, loud, "Dirty 6th" fully lived up to its local nickname with grimy streets and repulsive smells, and aggressive panhandlers were swarming the sidewalks. As people continue to move to the Austin area in droves, I don't know how long downtown Taylor will remain the quiet respite from Austin that it is today. I'll enjoy it while I can.

All photos were taken with an iPhone 6S+, Blackie app, contrast adjusted in Lightroom.

Sunday in Taylor

Camera G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) struck me a couple of weeks ago when I noticed that my favorite online camera seller, KEH, had a sweet sale going on. While I wasn't particularly looking for anything at the time, a sale is sale so I had to take a look. As luck would have it I found a camera that was on my "want it some day" list. It was an Olympus OM-4Ti 35mm film camera and at 25% off I clicked the buy button without a second thought. I'll talk more about this camera and why I was interested in it in an upcoming post. For now, I just thought I'd share a few photos I took with it on a functional test in nearby Taylor, TX. 

It was last Sunday morning when I ventured out with my friend and fellow photographer Jim. He has the same camera and was kind enough to show me the ropes on it and lend me some lenses. Taylor is a small town and I've certainly been there enough times that it seems like I've taken photos of just about everything there. Once again though, Taylor didn't disappoint as I pushed myself to find something special in the familiar. 

All photos were taken with the Olympus OM-4Ti using 50mm and 24mm Olympus lenses on Fujifilm Acros 100 black and white film. The film was developed and scanned by Austin Camera.

Smoke Stacks

I was wandering around downtown Austin a bit last week, shooting a roll of black and white film. A personal goal of mine is to shoot a roll a month and I'm really behind in that endeavor lately. My little outing was long overdue. I needed an analog photography fix. Call me a luddite if you want. Technology is wonderful and the advances in modern cameras are truly amazing. Still, there is nothing like the experience of shooting film, especially a purely manual camera where the only controls for exposure are shutter speed and aperture. Ah, simplicity! No screens of menus or fiddly dials and buttons. I was shooting an Olympus OM1N this day. No meter, just experience and instinct to judge exposure.

The old Seaholm Power Plant is now a shopping center. The smoke stacks remain and the main building still has the old Art Deco signs and accents. I was playing with a red filter on the lens and the stacks made for nice contrast against a darkened sky. The film was a roll of Poly Pan F that I bought from the Film Photography Project a while back. I'd never used it before. There were some interest frames on my roll and I think I might try this one again sometime. 

Huit Noir

I did some headshots of my good friend Eight for her acting portfolio. After we got done with the standard 8x10 headshot we played around for a bit with some film noir inspired portraits. In about 15 minutes we had several different looks with simple lighting changes and some wardrobe accessories. These were all done with two hot shoe flashes - one Rogue gridded hair light and one key light that was either gridded or shaped with Rogue accessories. The black side of a 5 in 1 reflector served as a backdrop in Eight's small apartment. As usual, my talented model/actress/director friend pulled off some very emotive poses and expressions. Here are 8 shots of Eight in noir style.

Images were taken with a Fujifilm X-T1 and XF 50-140mm lens.



Oh What Fun It Is To Ride

Pedicabs are a popular way to travel the downtown streets of Austin in the evening. They make interesting subjects for panned photos and it's hard to resist snapping a few attempts while I'm waiting to cross a street. Panning shots are hit or miss - you nail it or you don't. This was a lucky catch recently that I really like. December in Austin. Not really that cold but we put on jackets anyway and pretend that there is a winter nip in the air and maybe we'll see that white Christmas. Probably not. This passenger did appear to be enjoying her ride on a cool night through the Warehouse District and I found her smile to be contagious.

Scarcity of Light

There was a time when I would try to coax every last bit of detail out of scene - from the brightest highlights to the darkest shadows. Lacking well lit scenes, I often used to take multiple exposures and mash them together such that you could peer into every nook and cranny if you so desired. It's interesting how things change with one's sense of aesthetics over the years. More often than not these days, when I'm out photographing for myself I'm inclined to seek out a scarcity of light. Those areas of darkness with just enough light to carve out a form. That's when things get interesting lately. It doesn't matter if the rest of the scene falls to blackness - more the better if it does. Maybe I've seen too many washed out black and whites lately. I'm taking things noir. Blacks crushed. Don't be afraid of the dark.

Night Rides

I had just finished watching a flick at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz on 6th St. in downtown Austin one Tuesday evening. Being a weeknight, the street wasn't as crowded as it typically is on Friday or Saturday. The street is closed during peak party times to allow the inebriated masses to wander freely without fear of being hit by cars. Since Tuesday is a fairly quiet night on "dirty 6th" the street was open to traffic. Bikes and pedicabs are popular in the congested downtown area these days. You also see a good number of motorcycles on warm nights. I saw a few small cab-like carts that I have never noticed before.  

Having my pocketable Fujifilm XF1 with me, I lingered outside the theater a little while and snapped a few images of folks riding by. I love the energy and motion in these shots. While that  compact camera isn't the greatest in low light it worked fine for these panned captures. When you're dragging the shutter like this almost any camera with manual control can work. You can shoot at a lower ISO with the longer shutter to keep noise down a bit. I personally don't mind graininess and sometimes add more grain in post. I also don't fret too much over getting a pan shot's subject in perfect focus. The abstract feel of some of the blurrier shots often appeals to me. It's more about mood, gesture, and texture than critical focus.

3 on the Sidewalk

The hard light of midday cast deep shadows and a few things caught my eye on a particular corner near downtown Austin last weekend. Just 3 quick shots while waiting for a crossing light to change. The deep shadows were interesting and I could have walked around for much longer were it not for the oppressive heat right now. After a wet June we didn't see any breaks from the scorching sun in July. I'm looking forward to cooler temperatures. We have many weeks before we get there.

Windows on SoCo

The view through windows, from either side, can be intriguing late at night. My wife and I had just finished dinner at a little Japanese restaurant in the trendy SoCo area of S. Congress in Austin. Our window seat at the restaurant inspired me to to linger at some of the storefront windows on our walk back to the car. I captured these images in black and white with my pocketable Fujifilm XF1, a neat little camera for those nights when photography isn't the main purpose of the outing.

She Dances With Light

I was in downtown Austin for the Noir City film festival at Alamo Drafthouse last night. As my wife and I made our way through the 6th party crowd, I noticed that the Bat Bar had a dancer in their stage window. Since I happened to have my small point and shoot Fujifilm XF1 with me, I stopped to grab a few shots. The shot above is the scene that caught my eye. After firing off a few frames I realized that I needed to get closer. I framed the window tightly and fired away for minute or so. The quirky XF1 doesn't focus that great in situations like this and that didn't bother me. I was out to capture the patterns of light, the form and gesture of the dancer, and the energy of her dancing. It can't be an easy job - performing in a 6th St. bar window with an audience of mostly cat calling staggering party goers. Still, she seemed to feed off the thumping pulse of the music and danced with a passion.

Here are a few shots I like. I cropped them to squares since nothing outside the window mattered. I think I avoid square crops because it makes me think of Instagram. Sometimes it is what the image needs though. Harsh light, high contrast, and a little crunchy with grain. Hopefully some of the energy finds its way through. 

Eastman 5363 High Contrast Film

I purchased a few unconventional rolls of film from the Film Photography Project store a while back. One weekend recently I decided to load one of these rolls into a Canonet QL17 GIII I was trying out. It was a 24 exposure roll of Eastman 5363, a high contrast black and white film. This is a copy film, used for copying titles and mats in motion picture films according to the FPP site. From what what I'd read, I was hopeful I could get a nice contrasty "noir" look. I loaded up the Canonet and headed to my favorite nearby photography testing grounds in downtown Taylor, TX.

Well, I can say that this high contrast film certainly lives up to that description. I shot in a variety of settings, from harsh daylight to open shade. In the right light, this film looks great and gives a fantastic noir look. The camera I used didn't have a working meter so I ball parked things with the sunny 16 rule. What I found is that the dynamic range of this film is very limited. Shadows and, more importantly, highlights are easily lost in bright sunlight or on anything reflective. Normally, I'd use a yellow or orange filter to help tame sunlight but this was advised against by the folks at FPP. Keep the light a little flat like in open shade and the results are impressive. 

My film was developed and scanned by the friendly folks at Austin Camera. Here are a few of my favorite frames.

This is some interesting film stock and I'll definitely order more. I was hoping it would do a little better in bright daylight. Perhaps better results could be had with different development chemistry or pulling the development time down a bit. I'd like to see how well it does on an overcast day and early evening. At ASA 25, this slow film would become a challenge at night without a tripod. I'd be up for trying it out though. Working with some limitations, this film has promise for giving me that noir fix.

The Ominous Road Home

It was a dark and gloomy ride home from work. Isolated rain showers and thunderstorms lazily drifted about in the distance. The last sunlight of the day struggled to tear through the darkness, ultimately smothered by the thick blanket of rain clouds. The rain didn't amount to much. The skies only threatened a downpour and released very little water to the earth. We'll take what we can get in these parched, drought stricken parts. As long as there isn't hail or damaging winds, we'll take the occasional thunderstorms. Spring is an interesting time around here. It may bring welcome gentle rain to replenish our lakes and wells. The skies can just as easily unleash a violent and destructive fury. We may not get a drop of water and the drought may plague us another year. It's hard to say in these parts of Texas. There is measure of both fear and hope in Texas storm clouds. There is also profound beauty in these charcoal painted skies.

Images were captured in black and white with a Fujifilm XF1.

Hey! You Gonna Eat or What?

No, I'm not asking a question. That's really the name of one of the food trucks parked at The Picnic trailer food court in Austin. I was downtown running errands recently and decided to check out the Hey! You Gonna Eat or What? bus that I'd heard good things about. With a reputation for rudeness and a short menu of artery clogging fried cuisine, I wasn't sure about this at first. Well, I was pleasantly surprised. I'd heard the Monte Cristo is amazing so I ordered that from a surprisingly friendly and chatty guy at the window. If the warnings on the bus were any indication, I was expecting to be yelled at by an disgruntled musician running on 3 hours sleep after a dive bar gig on 6th. Maybe they only yell at tourists and hipsters. 

Another surprise was that owner and chef Eric personally delivers your food to your picnic table, dressed in kitchen attire like you'd expect to see in a ritzy steak house. Between the line and the queue of orders ahead of me, it took over half an hour for Eric to deliver my plate of fried goodness. He explained the details of my order's ingredients and preparation like a waiter serving a fine wine. Was it worth the wait? Heck yeah it was! Sorry, I didn't take a photo of my lunch. I'm not that guy. Go get your own. You gonna eat it or take pictures of it?

Waxahachie World War II Weekend 2014

This Veterans Day I thought I'd share a few images that I took at a WWII reenactment in Waxahachie, TX last weekend. They have a big event every year there to honor veterans and share some living history. The main attraction to a lot of people is a battle reenactment where allied forces take a railroad depot back from the Germans. While the battle is a great sight to see, I'm more there to wander around the camps and streets where lots of dedicated reenactors can be seen in full uniform and character. I enjoy mingling with these folks and documenting what they do. These reenactors go to great efforts at personal expense to accurately recreate historical events of WWII. In that spirit, I try to capture moments of these folks in character. As best I can, I isolate them from their modern surroundings and try to provide a realistic glimpse of history. 

To our nation's veterans who have bravely served in defense of our freedom - thank you.

My full gallery of images from the event can be viewed here.

All images were captured with a Fujifilm X-T1 and XF55-200mm lens. Black and white images from the camera were post processed in Adobe Lightroom to mimic film contrast and grain.